Okay darlings, let’s get this cleared up, please. Because I’m sick of dealing with this.
You know the whole “woman trapped in a man’s body” / “man trapped in a woman’s body” thing? That is a metaphor.
Okay? Do you have that? Do you understand? I’ll repeat: It’s a metaphor. A simplification. A way of putting transsexuality into terms that are easily explained to a cis person. That is why it exists, that is its job. Helping you understand something very complex (and very alien to your own experiences), in a way that is quick and easy, for contexts where a full and nuanced explanation is not feasible, and for people who wouldn’t understand those full and nuanced explanations.
It does NOT accurately reflect actual trans experience, is NOT intended to, and is DEFINITELY NOT the entirety of our thinking on the matter.
So when you mistake it as what (and all) we really believe, and decide to mock or discredit our identities by joking around about “what if I think I’m a penguin trapped in a human body?”, “what if I’m a black guy trapped in a jewish guy’s body?”, or “what if I’m a robot trapped in an organic body?”, you are making an ass of yourself. You haven’t dropped some wicked awesome truth bomb that totally proves how crazy and irrational trans people are. All you’ve successfully managed to do is point out that a simplified, dumbed-down metaphor is simple and dumb (which, I might add, is simplified and dumbed-down for the purpose of helping out simple-minded dummies like you). Congratulations!
When trans people use this metaphor, it is not because we don’t understand the complexity and nuance of gender and sex and how they work. It’s because we need to cope with how many of you don’t understand it.
Which, of course, is when we even use it all. Which since around 1993 or so has been “basically never”. Much like “politically correct”, this is a concept and phrasing that has LONG since stopped being used by those who developed it and only continues to be perpetuated as a “what trans people say about themselves” thing in the minds of those attempting to discredit or mock us. The metaphor, though originally developed by the trans community as a simplified means of explaining our identities to uncomprehending cis people, has since just become an appropriated, tired, zombie cliche that only gets trotted out when someone wants to make fun of us or talk about how totally ridiculous trans people are. Like that ever-so-lovely episode of South Park.
We know it’s become a cliche, and we know it gets used against us. As you should have picked up from the previous paragraphs, we’re not the idiots here. So we don’t really use it any more. People believing this is the mentality that trans people actually have are demonstrating a profound disconnection from the reality of the contemporary trans community. I mean, I suppose it’s useful in that way… as a red flag indicating that whoever is using it as a means of articulating their views on trans issues has virtually zero actual education on the subject and has simply cribbed their ramshackle comprehension from whatever scraps of pop culture’s interpretation of transgenderism they’ve managed to absorb over the course of their non-cave-dwelling lives. But not only is “trapped in a man’s body” not what we actually think, it’s no longer even what we actually say.
Also… about your penguins, black people or robots trapped in the wrong body… that doesn’t really happen. Or at least not in the same way. Your “clever” analogies don’t actually exist, but trans people do (and always have). While that can’t in and of itself tell you why your analogy is way way wayyy off the mark, it should at least hint to you that it doesn’t quite apply, and as such isn’t the brilliant, cutting insight you thought it was. Transsexuality has a particular etiology, as one of many possible natural variations that can occur in human gender. Such variations do not occur in terms of one having an identity as a robot or whatever because such identities are not connected to one of the underlying structures of human identity. Roughly half the human population has a female gender identity. The other approximate half has a male gender identity. There are no humans with a robot identity.
There aren’t even any robots capable of having an identity.
The idea that there is a neurobiological structure wired into human brains that predisposes us to a given gender identity as part of the process of sexual differentiation is a theory consistent with what we already understand about human beings and sex, that is supported by what scientific evidence we’ve so far collected (I will be doing another post soon talking about this evidence), and that makes sense. Gender identity, as a hypothesis, is reasonable. The idea of us having an underlying, neurobiological robot or species or racial identity is not, and these things don’t generally occur, while gender variance DOES occur, and always has occurred, throughout human history and across disparate human cultures (what varies is only how it is expressed, identified and accommodated).
Now, it would be necessary here to acknowledge furries and otherkin, many of whom do claim things like a “species identity”, or may similarly express the idea of being “an X trapped in a Y’s body”, or otherwise use (or perhaps appropriate) metaphors and terminologies related to transgenderism. Yes, I believe such identities are worth respecting. Everyone has the right to self-identify as they wish. But nonetheless, the etiologies are pretty different. Furries and otherkin do not occur with the same consistency across culture and history as does gender variance, no similar scientific evidence exists supporting the idea of a neurobiological origin to a variant “species identity” (or a species identity at all), the way these identifications play out are clearly much more closely tied to one’s cultural environment and cues (and more strongly mediated by them), and the idea of a species identity would, as a hypothesis, require rejecting or overhauling a considerable amount of what we presently understand about the human mind, self, evolution, and species itself.
To put it more simply: while furries and otherkin have the right to their identification (and even body modification should it become available), the current evidence suggests a much more socio-cultural and psychological etiology as contrasted to the likely neurobiological origin of things like gender identity and sexual orientation. This does not mean furries or otherkin are a “lesser” kind of identity, or that they deserve to be mocked, denigrated or invalidated, only that there are significant differences at play, and they are not directly comparable phenomena to transsexuality.
You see? Complicated and nuanced. Ridiculously so. Headache-inducingly so. Hence the simplifications like “man trapped in a woman’s body” we’ll often provide… you know, so people don’t have to constantly link you to gigantic and confusing blog posts just to answer your casual questions. And what I’ve written here does not even scratch the surface.
I mean that, you know, about not scratching the surface. It actually fails to even begin going into the full depth of what gender identity is and how it works. And people will still disagree with me over a bunch of this! People will disagree over my assertion that transsexuality and furries/otherkin are definitively distinct phenomena. As much as I’ve tried to be respectful about what I consider most important (the right to self-determination, self-identification and bodily autonomy), some furries or otherkin may be offended by what I’ve written here, and feel like I have indeed suggested there’s is a less valid identity (which is honestly not what I meant, by the way). Some people may strongly disagree with how much I feel that pure socio-constructivist theories of gender are countered by the existing evidence (though I support the idea that gender is socially and culturally mediated, particularly in terms of how it is expressed, and I disagree with hard-line essentialists at least as much as I disagree with hard-line constructivists). The neurological theory of gender identity is by no means proven, and some people will think the evidence is far too scant to even favour that hypothesis. Some people will think I’m overreaching in terms of the conclusions I draw from that. Some people will disagree with my assertion that gender variance occurs universally, and will instead say that cultural environment heavily modifies our experience of it to the point that the non-normative gender identifications of certain cultures (like two-spirit, hjira or kathoey) are not comparable to contemporary transsexuality (though my position is more that these identifications simply contained -amongst others- the individuals who within our cultural context would have identified as such). Etc.
So yeah… given that three paragraphs written to just address one of the many problems with your “critique” of the “trapped in a man’s body” concept is enough to hint at that many complications? That many points of contention and debate? I hope that should be suggestive of just how much deeper transgender theory goes than what you’ve assumed from an outdated cliche. I hope you can overcome the Dunning-Kruger effect long enough to get an inkling of how many volumes could be written on what you don’t know about transsexuality.
I guess what especially irritates me about this kind of thing is how much it connects to privilege. One of the most tedious effects of privilege is how an individual can end up being taught to believe that their opinions, whatsoever the topic, instantly have weight and worth. A person at a sufficient nexus of privilege along sufficiently numerous axes of oppression can end up spending their whole lives experiencing consistent deference and respect for their voice and opinions, always being listened to. The take away effect is thinking that no matter how little you actually understand a subject, how little you’ve researched it, how obviously it’s something with which the other party (in this case a trans person) has significantly more experience and intimate knowledge than you, how little you even give a damn, you still claim the right to opine on the subject, and act like your opinions are at least as worthwhile as everyone else’s, if not more so. Or as Asimov put it, the false notion that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge”.
Or just assuming that we’re all as ignorant as you are. And that whatever simplifications you’ve picked up along the way and somehow managed to understand, which is to say, the extent of your knowledge on the subject, is the extent of our knowledge too.
Really, cissexists and transphobes who scold trans people for thinking we’re “women trapped in men’s bodies” are pretty much the same thing as Creationists scolding evolutionary biologists for thinking a crocodile can give birth to a duck.
“What if I think I’m Spiderman trapped in a normal human’s body? Can I get surgery to get web-shooters installed in my wrists? Hurr hurr hurr” = “Well then why are there still monkeys? Hurr hurr hurr”
So please just shush.